It’s barely 7:30am in the morning and my parents’ backyard matching making business is in full swing. The targeted males sway nervously as my mom sets her scrutinizing gaze upon their pale yellow faces, deciding which lucky ones will be plucked from the crowd to meet their mate. The rest of them will either get their chance tomorrow or wither away. There’s not much time to dally before she has to head to her day job so she picks two worthy candidates and takes them around the corner where a few femmes are waiting. Without so much as a cursory greeting, the males and females get busy doing the deed. All that is left is to wait for the resulting union to bear fruit. A bitter fruit.
Forget all the rhetoric of acrimony and alimony, I’m only talking about the G-rated cross-pollination of a Goya plant, also known as bitter melon. It is only one of the many residents in our vegetable garden that my parents lovingly tend. Wander into our suburban backyard and you’ll encounter a dense, almost carelessly placed motley crew of plants that would easily earn a seal of approval from Alice Waters.
My parents tastes lean toward the Asian fare that they grew up eating so aside from bitter melon, we also have loofah squash (they are not only for scrubadubbing in the tub). In addition, we have eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes, rosemary, Thai basil, lemon grass, Asian honeysuckle, lima beans and another legume we call ‘meat bean’ because it tastes great in meat dishes. Practically everything is edible including the ground cover which consists of nutrient rich sweet potato leaves. My sister-in-law will casually snack on one of our succulents whenever she visits and my mom sometimes slices up aloe for a quick bite.
We also have fruits to sustain us in all seasons as our yard is brimming with trees and saplings. During the late fall and winter, we have pomelo, lemons, figs, kumquats, and multiple varieties of guava trees. Right now, I’m up to my ears in guavas, unable to eat them faster than they ripen. During spring, we have sweet and fragrant loquat. Summer brings several varieties of peaches, including donut peaches, white and yellow peaches, goji berries, and wax apples. The sheer productivity that my parents coax from our tiny piece of land is astounding as is their ridiculously low grocery bill. Even my cousins will take a quick shopping trip to our backyard instead of going to a traditional grocery store.
Ensuring such a bountiful harvest does take effort. My parents spend hours caring for the plants, watering them, weeding them, and protecting vulnerable fruit from hungry critters. And during the times when the birds and the bees can’t guarantee results , they’ll step in to get the job done.